John Finch has returned to his roots to bring junior hockey back to one of America’s most storied hockey communities.
The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Spacemen will begin operation this fall in the USPHL Premier Midwest East Conference. They will share Fort Wayne’s hockey spotlight with the Fort Wayne Komets, a true hockey institution now in its seventh decade of playing minor pro hockey.
Finch, a product of the Fort Wayne Youth Hockey program himself, is proudly returning with the Spacemen, bringing junior players to a position where they can both help young players while taking advantage of the experience of pro players offering assistance as well.
After playing as a youngster in the FWYH organization, Finch moved on to play junior hockey in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Finch was announced as the President/General Manager for the Spacemen when they formally unveiled the team for the local media on May 20. Along with Finch is co-founder Todd Ramsey, also a Fort Wayne resident and John Schwarz, a partner out of the Chicago area.
“All of my hockey background came from Fort Wayne,” said Finch in a telephone interview. He later coached locally, giving back to the youth organization that developed him and later, he joined with Dan D’Astoli of Montreal, who runs a hockey player advisory group called HPA.
Clearly proud of the Fort Wayne hockey heritage, Finch said it is important to him to operate together with the other teams and organizations.
“Before we bought the franchise, I sat down with our local ECHL team (Komets). They are going to support us in every way possible,” said Finch. “We practice at the same facility as the Komets.”
Finch said he plans to take advantage of that situation and he is confident some of the pro players will lend a hand if needed.
The association goes a step further as Finch pointed out the team name – Spacemen comes from a third jersey worn by the Komets. The junior team will also wear orange and black jerseys like the Komets.
Also sharing the ice is the hockey team is the Indiana Tech Warriors, defending NAIHA Division Champions and nearby is Trine University, another hockey school that boasts an NCAA Division 3 team as well as a pair of ACHA club teams.
Joining a new landscape
The Spacemen will be one of two teams joining the Midwest-East division this season as the Metro Jets’ MJDP team is slotted to play in the Midwest East as well. The Spacemen are a perfect addition location-wise as they will be a mid-point between Chicago and Detroit, which mark the East-West boundaries of the division.
These additions will also help the division become stronger, continuing the trend of the past two seasons as the Midwest East teams have become more formidable opponents in the USPHL Showcase Series and at Nationals as well.
“My goal is to be competitive with the teams out east as well,” said Finch, but he is also realisticwhen considering the team is an expansion franchise.
“First year recruiting is a challenge,” admits Finch. “Getting players to come to an expansion team with no history is not easy.”
However, Finch is confident the situation those first Spacemen will play under will be promotion enough to attract future players.
Finch said his association has helped him garner some stick and equipment deals he can pass on to players which is beneficial. With all the area teams, there will certainly be interested eyes in the crowd for most home games.
“Our goal, like all junior teams, is to get them to college, but they will also get noticed by pro scouts,” said Finch.
The Midwest East team has a bit of a unique identity in that they carry more local products than most teams from the other divisions. The talent level is there for Fort Wayne to fit into that mold as well in the future. Hockey registrations in Indiana have climbed the last three years.
“My goal is to take care of our own backyard,” said Finch, who is blessed to play in a community that has 400 players in its youth hockey organization. But while he hopes those young players grow up wanting to become the future of the Spacemen, the immediate need is to get a team on the ice. To that end, Finch and his staff are combing the continent.
“We’re going to have to turn over every rock to find players (this summer),” said the coach.
“We are scouting from California to Canada,” said the team president, adding his group was preparing to attend showcase events in Dallas and Denver.
The search goes on to find the pioneers that will become the first Spacemen. It’s not hard to feel the excitement when speaking to Finch. He relishes the challenge and responsibility to build a successful franchise.
There are big skates to fill in this town.